Posts tagged raising children


Last week I had the pleasure of sitting in on the one-time showing of the Focus on the Family documentary film Irreplaceable. Even if you missed the premiere, encore presentations of Irreplaceable are being added at other theaters around the country.

You may have seen the trailer for the film. If not, here it is.

YouTube Preview Image

The movie is just an introduction to a new series that seeks to look at the family from a number of different angles in an attempt to “recover, renew and reclaim the cultural conversation about the family.” It is also the launch of a new initiative by Focus called Gen3, challenging individuals to commit to building a thriving, divorce-free legacy for three generations.

After watching the first film in the series, I’m inclined to believe that Focus on the Family is going about it the right way. As you can see in the trailer, the film itself is a journey to find the cause of family (and thus) cultural decline. But the journey actually finds its answer in an unexpected place—back at home.

The film starts off looking at the history and ideology that’s led to family decline, and the far-reaching impact it’s had. Starting with modern views on sexuality (which really aren’t new at all), the questions move in a progression toward marriage, then parenting, then children, to the meaning of life itself. It becomes obvious that there is not just one cause for cultural decline, but many. It reveals that individuals, not social issues, are at the heart of the problem … and of the solution.

The documentary starts with the notion that cultural decline is inevitable when families become unstable, because the family is irreplaceable. But it ends by recognizing that what is truly irreplaceable is each person within a family.

The narrator’s search for answers to the general problem of family fracture leads him to reflect on his own personal struggles growing up in a family where the father was not faithful to the family. This leads him to recognize his own importance to his own family and how much his active presence is needed by his wife and his children. He realizes that it’s he who is irreplaceable.

Truth be known, everyone is irreplaceable in their family, if you believe in God as Sovereign. I’m often impressed at how differently God has made each of the members in my own family, and how their strengths and personalities have a unique and vital place in the health of the family as a whole, as well as in the life of each individual. Add to that the unique roles we each have as husband and wife, mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister, oldest, youngest, and middle. God has placed each member in the family to be a blessing and to be blessed.

How about you? How often do you think of yourself as irreplaceable as a man, as husband of your wife, and father of your children? How often do you recognize your wife’s unique fit as your partner and helpmeet, and as the nurturer and center of the family? And how often do you recognize each child and his or her irreplaceable part in your home now, and the irreplaceable part they will have in the family they will begin when their time comes?

The first step in rebuilding a crumbling culture is to create a strong culture in your own family. They, in turn can carry that legacy to the next generation, and the next.

What children want … and need

Parents have to make a lot of judgment calls on what is best for their children. As the father of seven, I know full well that my kids haven’t always agreed with my choices. I often wonder: If they had the same decisions to make, would they be good ones? What would my children want?

A few years ago, Ombudsman for Children, an Irish advocacy group, decided to find out the answer to that question of what children want in their unprecedented Big Ballot. They identified five key areas of life, then polled Irish children from 21 counties to find out what they identified as the most important between:

  • Education
  • Family & Care
  • Having a Voice
  • Health, Wealth, and Material Well-being
  • Play and Recreation

As might be expected, Education got schooled by the heavy hitters of Play and Having a Voice. Only 12% of kids picked Education as their top choice. Just above Education at the bottom of the list (16%) was Material Well-being. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that Having a Voice was only a half percentage point higher than those.

what children want

Father’s Day 2008 with my three youngest children and my wife Ellie

So, now we’re down to two: Play and Family. Which do you think topped the children’s list?


Nearly one third of the children surveyed chose it as their top concern, compared to just a quarter of the ballots for Play and Recreation.

Even when they might not agree with our choices, our children still realize that the family provides them security, protection, enjoyment, love, and counsel. It reminds me of how important a task we have to provide a nurturing environment for our children, and how much they look to us to care for them.

What makes a father proud is to know that his children value the same things that he is trying to provide for them. As long as he’s valuing the right things, it’s almost a slam dunk that his children will want the same things.

What makes children proud — what children want deep down — is to have a father who is an example of integrity and understanding, and who is a source of stability and direction. These are the very things that Scripture speaks of when it addresses the attributes and expectations of a father.

Although it’s not even close to being an exhaustive list, here are a few things children want — and need — from you, straight from the pages of Scripture.


Deuteronomy 11:19 — You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

3 John 1:4 —  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.


Proverbs 3:11-12 — My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

Hebrews 12:7-11 — It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.


Colossians 3:21 — Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Psalms 103:13 — Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.


Matthew 7:9-11 — Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?


Psalm 127:3-5 — Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

4 building blocks for raising children

GPS - 4 building block for raising children


For a number of years, I saved a single-frame cartoon drawing that showed a freckle-faced, scruffy, blond-haired boy (maybe five years old), who was barefoot, shirtless, and in cut-off jeans, walking down a dusty trail on a hot summer afternoon. That image alone captured for me what my boyhood was like. Innocent, for the most part. Easy going. A little guy kicking around in the backwoods of the Ozarks, never too far from home or from a fishing hole.

But what still brings a smile to my face is that the boy in the cartoon was carrying a pair of skinny old cats, whose tails he had tied together in a crude knot. The caption at the bottom of the cartoon read “And he was bound to acquire experience rapidly.”

Boyhood is meant to be like that. A discovery around every corner, abundant adventure, and rapid growth — embedded life lessons disguised as sharp-clawed cats!

All men start there. Some men never leave.

Boys will be boys

This was part of a previous blog post that you can read here…

Wanted: a GPS

Men don’t like being lost, and we hate asking for directions. But we love gadgets, and that’s why we love mobile devices that have a global positioning system (GPS).

A number of years ago, I was deer hunting. It was overcast, I was deep in a dense thicket in the woods, and there were no landmarks to help me get my bearings. As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, I was proud that I had never been lost. In fact, I couldn’t understand how any real man could get lost. But after a couple of hours of walking in circles, I came to three very humbling conclusions: (1) If I went in the wrong direction, there was nothing but forest for twenty miles; (2) the sun was going down, and it was going to get dark and cold; and (3) I really was lost!

Fortunately, I stopped going in circles, and another couple of hours later, just before dark, I stumbled out onto a road not far from my truck. But if I had carried a GPS device with me, I could have plotted a course and avoided a healthy dose of humiliation.

When Barbara and I started having children, I didn’t want to admit it, but I was lost in the thick woods of parenting. I discovered that raising children involved more than potty training, settling sibling squabbles, controlling temper tantrums, assigning chores, teaching manners, and playing in the yard. With six young children, I needed a reliable guidance system, and I found it in the Scriptures. I decided to dedicate a full year of studying the Bible, discovering the irreducible essence of what children need from parents.

I found that there are four building blocks for raising children: character, relationships, identity, and mission. Every child needs teaching, training, and modeling in each of these areas.

Building block no. 1: Character — “What Is wise and what Is foolish?”

I define true character as “response-ability” — the ability to respond rightly to authority and to the challenges we face in life.

A boy doesn’t know it yet, but life is hammered out on the anvil of his choices. The problem is that wisdom does not come naturally to boys. As the book of Proverbs tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (22:15). If a boy is going to step up in life, he needs an older man who will model a lifestyle of wisdom and charge him with becoming a man of character, making right choices, and acting responsibly. A boy needs to know how to choose what is right (wisdom) and not what is wrong (foolishness).

Building block no. 2: Relationships — “How do I love others?”

When asked what the “greatest commandment” was, in essence, Jesus said, “Life is about relationships with God and others” (see Matthew 22:37–40). A boy needs to know how to build authentic relationships — how to communicate and speak respectfully, how to forgive and ask for forgiveness, and how to control his natural selfishness. He needs to be trained in how to love other imperfect human beings.

Many of these lessons will be learned in the laboratory of his home, as he gains understanding in how to relate to God, his parents, and his siblings. He needs to know that if he doesn’t have relationships, he misses life.

Building block no. 3: Identity — “Who am I?”

Every person is born with a unique identity that has its origins in God. Genesis 1:27 declares, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” A boy can never fully determine who he is unless he understands that he is made in the image of God — with a body, soul, and spirit.

A boy’s identity involves his “spiritual address” — his relationship with God. He needs to understand that there is a God who governs the world. As he grows up, he will be tempted to become self-focused and self-absorbed. He can begin to think that he is the very center of the universe and may be less likely to look outside of himself for meaning and purpose. A boy needs to realize that as God’s creation, he is accountable to God for his life and how he lives it.

Boys get their first glimpse of their heavenly Father by watching their earthly fathers. In essence, God has given fathers the assignment of saying, “Welcome, son. As imperfect as I may be, it is my desire to take the next couple of decades and introduce you to God.” If you are a father, this is your assignment. This is your privilege. No other man on the planet has the same responsibility for your son.

A boy also needs help as he grows up in this culture to answer questions such as: What is my sexual identity? What does it mean to be a boy and not a girl? He needs to have his budding masculinity affirmed and embraced as he grows up. In short, it’s not just “okay” to be a boy. It’s good. Very good.

A boy needs to understand that he also possesses emotions that are part of his identity. From the very start, at birth, his security — and ultimately his stability — depends on the love (or lack of love) he receives from his parents. The emotional support, affirmation, and affection he sees demonstrated between his dad and mom are as important as anything they teach him.

Building block no. 4: Mission — “Why am I here?”

Every boy, every person, needs a reason to live — a purpose that provides meaning and impact. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Boys need to begin to grapple with their mission in life. And they will get the first glimpse of what having a mission looks like from their dads.

For many men, their primary mission in life is to build a successful career, provide for their families, and retire comfortably. That is what drives them, and that is the vision they pass on to their sons. But I think there is a much greater, nobler mission to pass on to boys. One of my favorite passages about children in the Scriptures is found in Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (verses 4–5).

This is powerful imagery. Think about what an arrow is created to do. Was it designed to stay in the quiver, comfortable and protected? No, it was made to be aimed and shot by a warrior at a target, to deliver a blow in battle.

Can you see the connection? Boys need to understand that they are not here on earth just to achieve worldly success and comfort. They’re here to strike a blow against evil, to make a mark on their world. Just like you. After all, dads are arrows too.

Lost boys can become lost men

These four foundational elements represent the DNA of life. If a young boy misses just one, he can miss life as God intended it.

Think of the men you know who struggle and can’t quite put life together, and see if a big part of their problem can be traced to some misguided or missing perspective in one or more of these four areas. They don’t yet know who they are as men or who they want to be. They have no spiritual address and wander aimlessly. They don’t know how to love and sustain a meaningful relationship with a woman or with a male friend, and they are lonely. They don’t know how to make good value judgments or how to keep their promises, and they are foolish. And they just don’t have a real purpose for their lives. They never seem to “nail it.” They’re drifting, dreaming, shifting, hoping — they never experience what God wants to do through their lives. And that is a wasted life.

I’ve found that many of these men never had a father or an important male figure in their lives. We’re paying the price in our culture for this lost generation of boys. It’s time for us to deal with our own disappointments, lay aside our guilt and regrets, and reach down and help a boy “step up.”

This post was taken with permission from the book Stepping Up, by Dennis Rainey.  (2011-05-11). Stepping Up (Kindle Locations 757-765). FamilyLife Publishing®. Kindle Edition. No reproductions of this piece without the consent and permission of FamilyLife are permitted.

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